«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»
Christian world, relics included, is directly linked to the upper world of Transcendence254, the Saracen idols have no Transcendence. In their world, any notion of Transcendence always falters and falls to the ground since, having no real Transcendence to begin with255, Transcendence, not as true Substance but as pure abstraction, can only dwell in the vacuous nature of material idols. If Frankish religiosity opposes Saracen religiosity, it is not only because the Saracens have a false idea of God, but also because they only have an idea/idol of God. They are mere idols, mere concepts, and mere symbols devoid of substance. They are devoid of the Subject to whom one should be subject, thereby becoming a subject oneself. One can imagine that when Bramimonde converts, out of love, it is a conversion to the very Frankish, Christian concept of the divine, that of a substantific incarnation allowing for the process of continual subjectivizing. She converts not to some empty, material idol, but to the type of deity so ardently defended by the Franks. The Christian articles of worship point to some other "thing" outside of, and beyond themselves. This is the very possibility that is not afforded or made possible by a Saracen idol. This is the reason why, when the Saracens project their religious beliefs into articles and instruments that are devoid of spiritual force, that projection will necessarily fall back down to earth.
the Saracen deities, must be found elsewhere, more precisely, in the Christian other:
This is one of the main ideas in Augustine’s City of God. See Augustine, The City of God. This theme is also evidenced by the deaths of the Christian knights whose souls are carried off to Paradise, suggesting that actions in this world correspond to states of grace in another.
Let us remember that the soul of Saracen warriors is carried down into Hell – yet another phenomenological movement towards the “bottom”, a downward movement.
Dist Bramimunde: 'Or oi mult grant folie!
All of these different elements are combined in the "Chanson de Roland" in such a way as to suggest to the reader that the Saracens, incarnated by Marsile and his counselors, have actions and thoughts that are conditioned by desires, motivations, instincts, that enslave them to their natural or material existence. This is their difference. Consequently, as far as Marsile and his political scheming are concerned, it is the case that the possibility for an awareness of difference is related to an awareness of the impossibility of such a difference. Marsile is made aware of his difference by being confronted with its potential destruction. Marsile’s anguish and his desperation stem from his recognition that his subjectivity, different in nature from that of his Christian enemies, is potentially transient, since its potential for being is determined by another’s subject's negating activity. In other words, Marsile is made all the more aware of how the world is divided up into vanquished and victor, blessed and disgraced, by the fact that his own subjectivity/difference within that world waxes and wanes through the emergence of the other, different, mode of subjectivizing. We can argue that from the point of view of the author of the “Chanson de Roland”, military superiority is aligned with a subjective/cultural superiority.
This is all the more true if we return to the theme of Saracen anxiety. What we discover is that such anxiety (expressed by Marsile, and practised by his knights in combat) must be measured against the degree of martial certainty (the unwavering devotion to combat in the name of lord and God) evidenced by the Christian hero of the poem: Roland. Roland and his fellow Verses 2714-2717.
knights (most notably Turpin: the admixture of theology and a warrior ethic) frequently invoke
the importance of bravery. A few examples are sufficient to drive home this point:
Ki de sun cors feïst tantes proëcces.258 I believe that these two passages give a sufficient idea of the overwhelming importance of bravery/prowess the Christian protagonists value in defining a warrior’s existence and social standing. The warrior must fight bravely, and furthermore, he must be prepared to die if need be.
This self-sacrifice is not only determined by feudal heritage, as may be suggested by some of Roland’s comments259, it is also one of the theological assumptions upon which knighthood is conceived. This is related to the fact that since “Christ dies for them; they must be willing to die for him”260. A pagan, such as Marsile, would not be so inclined. To fail to do otherwise would be to be unfaithful to one’s knightly creed. Wilfrid Besnardeau has studied the relationship between bravery and cowardice as existential standards and indicators of difference in other medieval chansons de geste. The dynamic he employs for the Aliscans and the Chanson de Verses 1055-1058.
Roland laments the loss of the rear guard as a waste of Charlemagne’s efforts in having “kept” such an army.
Charles had nourished/kept his army, and they owe him devout allegiance. See verses 1857-1860.
Kaueper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. p. 233.
Guillaume can equally be used in our analysis. He defines bravery as the essential value which constitutes the means of knightly becoming, defining the knight’s role and duties as a social
warrior, and thereby helps to situates him within the larger social framework:
Ces recommendations mettent bien l’accent sur la mission extrêmement importante qui incombe aux guerriers. Aussi dans la littérature, les chevaliers correspondent-ils globalement à un modèle idéal de comportement, tant ils sont vantés pour leur hardiesse.
C’est pourquoi, à certains endroits, La Chanson de Guillaume et Aliscans dénoncent la lâcheté comme défaut majeur pour stigmatiser le mauvais chef ou le mauvais roi. Or ces deux oeuvres présentent aussi des guerriers dont la lâcheté les écarte résolument du reste de la communauté en allant jusqu’à redéfinir leur identité. 261 Given the importance placed on martial prowess, the absence of bravery leads to a knight’s demotion in rank and social standing. Such a downfall in social standing is very much at the heart of Roland's reputed hubris. He would rather perish than be seen, or remembered, as having lacked courage or fighting spirit. Cowardice could lead to songs of disrepute being sung about a knight’s shortcomings. Both Roland and Turpin evoke the possibility that a warrior, unequal to his role and task, could suffer the ill-repute of such songs262. The Saracens, by contrast, do not appear to be motivated by any future glory, or any soteriology. They do not, in combat, appeal to the idea that they, in turn, might be lionized or vilified by future songs of glory. Their primary concern is wealth and materiality. As a consequence, and in keeping with the dichotomous nature of the poem, a worthy Christian knight, being different, is compelled to risk his life and being in combat.
Besnardeau, ‘Le personnage de Guichard et les couards dans La Chanson de Guillaume et dans l’Aliscan”s’ in Mourir pour des idées. Textes réunis et présentés par Caroline Cazanave et France Marchal-Ninosque, Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, Besançon, 2008, p.318.
Roland does so in verses 1014; 1466. Turpin does the same a few verses later in 1474. In chapters 11-14, we will explicate the philosophy of dishonour that motivates such comments.
The manner in which one acts and practises the martial dimension of life, leads into and reflects one's dependence upon or faithfulness to the theological dimension of existence. As we have seen in chapters 1-7 when discussing the notion of faithfulness to a truth process, the Christian hero is willing and able to risk all, to risk the disappearance and negation of his subjectivity because, in the risking, there is involved a continuity of that subjectivity within a universal process. Something of that which is negated continues and persists within the universal truth, and it persists all the more for having been lost, or sacrificed, in the name of the Truth. The martial and the spiritual are conjoined inasmuch as, in both cases, there is an obligation to fight for, to struggle in the name of a Truth for which all manner of suffering and humiliations are willingly endured. To be a Christian, if we refer back to the Pauline accounts of what just such a behaviour would involve, means enduring hardships and humiliations (up to, and including death) for God. To be a Christian knight, therefore, involves the admixture of these two notions of faithfulness. Of a faithfulness willing to forego the existence of its subjectivity in the situation in order to stand in union with the Truth. Consequently, to be a Christian knight is to be at risk. This is the crucial ideal that is so important in the "Chanson de Roland's" poetic militancy, and which it asserts as being so very absent in the Saracen world.
According to this model, it is judged to be far better to be used up in battle, where a knight can have the pleasure of dying gloriously263, than to be used up in a dreary material existence.
Battle and combat give men a death with military honours, they give him future (immanent) immortality in that he becomes the subject of great songs and epic poems, and they afford him the opportunity of extending his subjectivity beyond its immediacy, into the hereafter, achieving complete subjectivity before God. It is no wonder that such a poetic paradigm would compel What could be more glorious than the promise of Paradise that Turpin hints at when he whips his fellow knights into a murderous frenzy: “Se voz murez, esterz seinz martirs:/ Sieges avrez el greignor pareïs”. Verses 1134-1135.
knights to flock to this bloody standard. War is admirable since it protects from growing weak and comfortable, it facilitates both immanent and otherworldly immortality, while it also excites
cosmological incidents in the text undoubtedly serve to lessen the importance of the immanent immortality afforded by epic song. They remind the reader/listener that, although these might be important, the true focus is (or should be) always on the hereafter. Perhaps the very presence of such cosmological incidents highlights a potential tension within the Christian camp itself.
Unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of this paradigm among the Christian heroes of the poem, the “Chanson de Roland” suggests that it is precisely from the perspective of this material existence that the Saracen difference in action and thought manifests itself. In fact, the “material narrative” of the text is wholly one-sided. The poem is silent about any potential Christian materialism. There are very few descriptions of Christian possessions, aside from an enumeration of the relics held within the warrior’s sword. In keeping with the poem's orthodoxy, the presence of such relics is not pecuniary in nature (although the market for such things was a highly profitable one), but rather religious. The relics make present the divine in the immanent, and therefore relate its possessor to this sacred sphere. The "Chanson de Roland" is arguing that when Christians are involved with, or trade in material possessions, these are not really material possessions, or, at least, they should be viewed with a degree of circumspection. After all, Christian knights, Ganelon aside, would not be so base.
There is, on the other hand, a wealth of descriptions of Saracen possessions. These are descriptions of objects which are both physical and economic. There is a spiritual dimension to such a preoccupation with materiality. The spirit matters little where matter matters most.
It should be remembered that, in historical terms, the Crusaders judged that the men of the East (Saracen and Orthodox Christians) were effeminate and weak, precisely because they had grown weak through a facile material existence.
Ethical concerns, moral qualms, religious beliefs, existence itself, are expendable given that they can be traded against, or for, matter. If Blancandrin's advice is to be taken seriously, there is interchangeability between the lives of the sons of the Saracen leaders, and the wealth of Spain.
Material objects are, of course, the products of men, such that the emphasis placed on such objects involves a self-interpretation of those men by themselves as lording over a world where the lives and beliefs of others (the sons to be sacrificed, the Frankish king to be duped) has only economic value. The "Chanson de Roland" wants us to believe this materialist narrative and characterization of the Saracens, and to this end, the “gifts” given to Ganelon best exemplify this focus on materiality within Saracen culture and thinking. When Ganelon betrays his fellow Franks, he enters into a pact with the Saracens. What is striking in this pact is the extent to which the net material benefit of the betrayal is emphasized. The Saracens continually highlight and dramatize the importance of the gifts they give to Ganelon by stressing their great cost. A
few examples will suffice: